Breast feeding can be hard. It can be trying to even the best spirits and the moms who read all the books. Nothing can quite prepare you for the first six weeks of motherhood. Although, the more you know, the better prepared you can be. You can be more confident and recognize that what you are going through is normal and you are not failing.
Our society has a tendency to sabotage healthy breast feeding habits before they even get started. We have an obsession with schedules, and with how much the baby is eating. And let’s not forget that we are taught that you shouldn’t hold your baby too much. *Newsflash* You can’t spoil a newborn.
By understanding the way that your breasts make milk, and the way that breast feeding works, you will give yourself an edge.
Again, it is worth repeating: The first six weeks are the hardest. But trust me, there is a trade-off. By six weeks, it is likely that you have resolved any latch issues, you have mastered the art of nursing while lying on your side (a great trick that allows mom to get a little rest!), and you and your baby are in tune with each other and have gotten into your own rhythm. Imagine if you give up on breast feeding before the six weeks is up. After that time, you are still having to get up and prepare bottles, wash them, make sure you have formula on hand, etc. Breast feeding may be harder than formula feeding at first, but I promise it gets easier!
First things first, let’s look at how milk production works.
The hormone oxytocin helps boost milk production. Oxytocin is known as the love hormone. How do we suggest that you boost your oxytocin levels? Skin-to-skin contact and snuggling with your baby as much as possible. Bringing the baby to the breast as often as possible with help with a few things. 1) Baby will learn to latch. 2) Your breasts will get the signal to make milk, especially in the first few days. Many people think that they aren’t making enough for their baby in the first few days so they will supplement with formula, which can actually have an adverse effect on milk production because your baby isn’t stimulating you for milk production. Also, the baby’s stomach can only hold a small amount. It is just about the size of a cherry tomato in those first few days. It is common for babies to feed frequently in those first few days.
Once your milk comes in, typically on days 3-5 (but it can be later) you need to drain your breasts for them to know to make more milk. Full breasts make milk slower and empty breasts make milk faster. When your breasts are full, and the milk is not being used it gives the signal to slow production down. Alternately, when your baby is eating frequently and your breasts are being emptied, they get the signal to boost production. It is a matter of supply and demand. Learning this and following the rules of supply and demand in the first few weeks is essential to setting yourself up for success in the months that will follow. Although it is not impossible to boost production in the later months of nursing, it does become more difficult. The first few weeks are setting the stage for good milk production throughout your nursing relationship.
Another important aspect of the breastfeeding relationship that is that each mother and baby pair is different.
It has been said that the size of your breasts will not affect your ability to breastfeed, and this is true. However, your breasts have a certain storage capacity for milk. This amount will determine how often your baby eats and whether you use one or both breasts at each feeding.
It is all too easy to compare ourselves to someone else. You may look at your friend that has a baby around the same age as yours. That baby is nursing from only one breast and eats every four hours, while your baby is nursing from both breasts and eating every two hours. Neither one of you is doing anything wrong. You are feeding your baby on demand and following your instincts. The mother and baby with the higher storage capacity has learned to take a larger amount at one time because that is what is available. The pair with the smaller storage amount eats more often, and often from both breasts at one feeding. The important thing is that no matter how often they are eating through the day, they are still getting the recommended ounces per day.
For example, the recommended amount is 24 ounces in a day. Your baby can eat 2 ounces every two hours (12 feedings X 2 oz = 24 oz/day). Or your baby can eat 4 ounces every 4 hours (6 feedings X 4 oz = 24 oz/day).
It all depends on a wealth of things, so don’t compare yourself to anyone else and where they are in their breastfeeding relationship. Comparing yourself can lead you to feel inadequate, especially if you are running into obstacles and someone else has a seemingly easy journey. More on feeling inadequate and common breastfeeding misconceptions in Part Two!